To the surprise of almost no one, the International Federation for aquatic sports, FINA, declared that no athletes would be suspended for participating in events hosted by organizers not affiliated with it, or with its national federations. From its statement:
“FINA Legal Counsel François Carrard, present at the meeting, clarified FINA’s position: ‘FINA recognises the right of athletes to participate in any swimming event. However, this participation should respect the frame of sport structure. FINA’s business is not to punish athletes, although if the FINA rules are not met, the results of the competition will not be recognised by FINA.’”
So the maximum punishment that any swimmer could expect is that a time recorded at such an event would not be recognized for either record purposes, or for qualification for another event.
This was all quite obvious, despite the protestations of the International Swimming League, which has filed suit against FINA in U.S. Federal Court in the Northern District of California. FINA has long recognized competitions not operated by it, such as USA Swimming’s Tyr Pro Swim Series and the three-nation Mare Nostrum Series in Europe, among other events.
The FINA statement came at the end of a session with a group of national federation executives, including Tim Hinchey of USA Swimming. He was quoted in support, stating ““We work hard to make sure that swimmers are at the heart of everything we do at USA Swimming.
“Our athletes are extremely dedicated to our sport and deserve every opportunity to reap the rewards of their hard work. It’s been great to work with FINA to learn more about the new opportunities that will be provided thanks to the FINA Champions Swim Series. With around USD $4 million in prize money and appearance fees, the Series is a great addition and we look forward to U.S. swimmers prospering at each of the three legs.”
The details of the Champions Swim Series are vague. The meets are likely to be held in the spring, with China, Hungary and the U.S. as possible venues. A total of $3.9 million in prize money is slated for distribution across the three events.
FINA’s statement could have significant consequences for the two suits filed against it. It will now be much more difficult for the International Swimming League or the three class-action plaintiffs to prove significant damages from FINA’s alleged monopoly power over swimming competitions. And whatever damages might have been suffered from the cancellation of the Energy for Swim meet in December will require a showing in court that the meet was imploded by FINA’s actions, rather than other factors. The case has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley.
For FINA, this declaration could have been made in December and saved everyone a lot of time. But much better a little late than never.